I wake up screaming.
Sweat is dripping off my body as I flick on the bedside lamp. Although my mind is a mess, everything in my room is as it should be. Books still fill every nook and cranny of my sagging bookcase. Clothes are jammed in the closet and spill on to the floor. I look at the door across the room and wait. I wish it would open. I wish she would burst into my room and rock me until my fear went away. It stays closed. My nightmares are so common that she hardly notices the screaming anymore. She hardly notices much.
It's still dark outside my window, a little after three a.m. if the neon green numbers on the alarm clock can be trusted. Reluctantly, I turn off the lamp and settle into bed. I don't want to go back to sleep. I don't want to visit the world on the other side of my eyelids again. I don't want to see her face. It was a her tonight. It's not always.
In the dark, I touch my shoulder gingerly. It's tender but not bruised. I open and close my jaw slowly. Like my shoulder, it hurts but it still works. Finally, I work up the courage to touch the skin at my neck. I stifle a sob as I reassure myself that there is no cord wrapped around it. That no one is towering over me with murder in his eyes. That he is not pulling the rope tighter and tighter until…
"It's not real," I whisper to no one. "It's not real."
Of course, it's not real. It's just a dream. If I turned on the light and looked in the mirror, I wouldn't find any evidence of his attack. But I know he hit me. I know he would have killed me if I didn't wake up. I mean her, killed her, the woman whose future I'm living in my dreams.
I close my eyes, and her face instantly springs up. She's beautiful and completely my opposite with her creamy brown skin, dark hair, and round eyes. On the outside, she looks so confident. There is no trace of the guilt and shame she carries for him, for his actions, for something that is not her fault. For a second, I envy her. I wouldn't be able to do it. Be so strong, I mean. I'd break down and cry. Run away.
But then I think about my dream, and I realize what being strong and stoic and silent will cost her. It will cost her her life.
There's a small meow and the padding of tiny footsteps across the floor. My screaming must have roused him from his nap in the sock drawer of my armoire. Nickel isn't a beautiful cat, but I love him desperately, especially in the dark hours of the night. Suddenly I'm hungry for the warmth of another living thing so I snuggle close to him and stroke his silky fur. He purrs in response as if to reassure me. I close my eyes and try to relax. With Nickel by my side, I can let my mind consider the questions that always linger after a nightmare like this.
I wonder where I'll meet her, the girl in my dreams. If I'll see her at the park or a restaurant. If she'll come into the coffee shop where I work. Those are always the most awkward encounters for me, but I do what I have to and try not to cause a scene. I fear how she'll react when I tell her what I've seen. I'm scared that if I don't say the right words, I'll read her obituary in the paper a week or two from now. It happens more often than I'd like to admit. That they don't listen to me. Not all of them die, but they end up living out the nightmares I've tried to keep them from. It's not hard to understand why those people hate the truth.
I've got to try. I've got to try for Sarah. That's her name, the woman whose life I need to help save. She can think I'm crazy as long as she listens. God, I hope she listens.
That's something I've tried to understand since the accident. Why does The Boss—God, that is—send me as a messenger to people who don't listen? I haven't been able to figure it out, so I stopped trying. As far as our deal is concerned, I don't have to get people to follow The Boss' messages. I just have to relay them. Technically I don't have to feel guilty if they don't listen to me, but I do. I always do. I just hope I don't have to feel guilty about Sarah.